Dozens quarantined after COVID cases emerge at South Hadley middle school 

  • The Michael E. Smith Middle School playground in South Hadley, July 26, 2018. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2021 8:17:20 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Six positive COVID-19 cases were identified last week at Michael E. Smith Middle School, leading to dozens of students being quarantined.

Interim schools Superintendent Diana Bonneville said Thursday that the six positive cases were “attributed to sleepovers and traveling sports teams.” After the cases were discovered, the schools identified a large number of others who came in close contact with the students who tested positive.

“The high number of close contacts at middle were attributed to desks being 3 feet apart and two PE classes combined,” Bonneville wrote in an email. “Since we weren’t positive who was within 6 feet in an athletic situation, we wanted to be safe.”

Bonneville did not have an exact number on hand of how many students were quarantined. At Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, Town Administrator Michael Sullivan noted that between April 27 and May 4, the number of town residents identified as “close contacts” jumped by 47.

“That is a concern. Most of that is attributed to some contact tracing at one of the schools,” Sullivan said. “We’re hoping that it doesn’t evolve into, as we’ve seen before, confirmed cases in the following week.”

Bonneville said Thursday that she sends families and guardians a letter any time a positive case is identified in the schools, strongly reminding parents to follow all safety guidelines and protocols.

As for why so many students were identified as close contacts and quarantined, Bonneville noted that the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, recently changed its guidelines, lessening the required distance between student desks from 6 feet to 3 feet.

“This means that the hybrid model that we were using with desks 6 feet apart was no longer an option,” Bonneville said.

In the PE classes, Bonneville said she believed the two classes combined because it was raining outside.

“In the future, we will not be combining classes and PE classes will be more mindful of enforcing social distancing and staying outside whenever possible,” she said.

According to DESE guidelines, students identified as close contacts must quarantine for between seven and 14 days, depending on whether they get a negative COVID-19 test result or experience any symptoms during the quarantine period.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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